At a time when NASA’s been fighting for every penny, an independent review panel has found that the James Webb Space telescope – the planned replacement for Hubble – is running one-third over its $5 billion budget and will likely be a year late.
The James Webb Space Telescope already accounts for 40 percent of NASA’s entire astrophysics budget, and is now likely to cost at least $6.5 billion, the panel said. And while it was originally intended to be launched in June 2014, the panel’s report says it’s now looking like September 2015 at the earliest.
John Casani, chair of the review panel, blames organizational problems within NASA for the overspend. In a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, he says: “The JWST budget presented to headquarters in support of the Confirmation Review was badly flawed, principally because it was not supported by a bottoms‐up estimate, nor did it include provision for the threats and liens that the project knew about at the time.”
Bolden has responded with a number of changes to the project management structure, assigning a new senior manager and support staff.
“This will ensure more direct reporting to me and increase the project’s visibility within the agency’s management structure,” he says. “Additionally, the Goddard Space Flight Center’s project office has been reorganized to report directly to the center director. That office is undergoing personnel changes to specifically address the issues identified in the report.”
The James Webb Space Telescope will be 100 times more powerful than Hubble. Making its observations in the infrared, it will have a 6.5 meter foldable mirror, and will float in a gravitationally stable point known as the second Lagrange point, 1.5 million kilometers above Earth.
The report acknowledged that the project is in good shape technically, pointing out that the delays and overspend have been associated with budgeting and program management, not technical performance. Casani’s letter decribes it as ‘the most exciting and scientifically promising mission ever undertaken by the Science Mission Directorate’.
“I am encouraged the ICRP verified our assessment that JWST is technically sound, and that the project continues to make progress and meet its milestones,” says Bolden. “However, I am disappointed we have not maintained the level of cost control we strive to achieve – something the American taxpayer deserves in all of our projects.”